The Supreme Court and the Importance of Information

April 04, 2011
1:58 pm

Last week, my organization, the Healthcare Leadership Council, joined with two distinguished healthcare leaders, Dr. Louis W. Sullivan and Tommy Thompson, both former secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services, in filing a ‘friend of the court’ brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.  We did so because of the critical nature of medical information and the importance of keeping databases accurate, up-to-date and accessible to medical professionals.

The case in question is Sorrell v. IMS Health and it concerns a Vermont law that bans the commercial use of de-identified patient data that is part of a physician’s prescribing history.  It’s the kind of law that plays to the kneejerk instinct to keep patient information in a sealed and inaccessible lockbox, but the ramifications of this approach to quality healthcare are quite severe.

What’s important to note here is that the Vermont law really isn’t protecting anybody.  The patient data in question is already de-identified.  Anyone making use of this information won’t see patient names.  Furthermore, there are already rigorous federal and state regulations in effect to protect against wrongful use of medical information.

The downside of the Vermont law is that barring all commercial use of such data also stops the flow of resources that is used to maintain current, accurate databases and to create new analytical tools that enable the use of data for health system improvements.

Secretaries Sullivan and Thompson and the HLC are far from alone in holding this point of view.  Over 50 organizations and individuals, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Press, have also filed amicus briefs to invalidate Vermont’s statute.

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